FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The transition from high school athletics to the Division I level is not always an easy one to make. Add in being counted on to offset the loss of nine exceptional members of "The Foundation," head coach Andre Luciano's 2007 recruiting class, and this transition becomes a touch more difficult.
"I think the transition has been everything people told me it would be," said freshman defender Diane Buzzard. "But I still wasn't ready for it."
According to this 2011 class that features nine outstanding freshmen, the biggest difference that they've had to adjust to is the on-field play.
"The play is a lot quicker and the pressure is a lot higher," said freshman forward Jordan Post. "You have to think a lot faster. The person right next to you loves the game as much as you do, so you're fighting a lot harder for what you want."
With the departure of two starters from last year's defensive backline, four of the 10 freshmen are defenders (Jordan Bergeson, Buzzard, Emily Roth and Malia Tano). The class also features three midfielders (Mary Harrah, Lindsay Olsen and Kelly Whelan) and two forwards (Post and Sarah Tarver) to bring depth to this year's roster.
In addition to the on-field play at the Division I level, the freshmen are getting acclimated to living in a new environment. For most of them, it means adjusting to a completely different state altogether as eight of the 10 are from outside the state of Arizona.
"The weather here has been a lot of the same," Post, a native of Spearfish, S.D., said. "There's a little more rain here and it's a little hotter, but I'm excited for winter."
Even making the transition from the Valley to the mountainous region in Flagstaff can be a bit of a change according to Bergeson, originally from Chandler.
"It's definitely hotter in Phoenix," Bergeson joked. "It's also much drier and the altitude here is crazy."
The team opened camp earlier this month and has since been running two-a-days in preparation for this weekend's season opening games at Arizona State and Southern Utah. Luciano has had his team hard at work, but it's got this group of first-year Lumberjacks amped to finally start the season.
"I'm just excited to play with these girls," Bergeson said. "We've been practicing with them and it's been a lot of fun, so I'm really excited to step on the field and show everyone what we've got this year."
"Seeing how much our team has grown from the beginning of preseason, I'm ready to see how we stack up against other teams," Buzzard added.
But the real excitement will come next week, as the Lumberjacks will finally get the opportunity to host their home openers at their newly renovated Lumberjack Stadium. Playing in front of the Lumberjack faithful will be a special moment for everyone, but maybe more so to Buzzard, who is a local product of Flagstaff High School.
"It's so much pressure, but it'll be so exciting though," Buzzard said. "I've watched NAU Lumberjack soccer since I was like four years old and I never though that I'd be out there playing. With the new stadium, there'll be a lot of pressure on all of us."